How to stop lifestyle creep after getting out of debt

Appetite comes with eating – it’s a common Polish idiom which sums up the lifestyle creep well. If you are not sure what lifestyle creep actually means, it’s something that happens when your luxuries turn into necessities. It tends to accompany an increase in income and goes hand in hand with what people call ‘standard of living’. Standard of living is more of an aspirational term, where lifestyle creep is a negatively coloured outcome of that aspiration.

Lifestyle creep is also not the same as lifestyle change – lifestyle change requires a conscious effort where lifestyle creep often is somewhat unconscious.

But why am I talking about this? The chances are that if you ever went through an exercise of directing your money to a specific goal for an extended period of time, such as fast debt payoff or aggressive saving, you might have experienced it once you were done with that goal. You most likely experienced it if you went from school or university directly into a reasonably paying job too. And if you are as much of a butterfly as I am, you probably didn’t even notice. So I am talking about this, selfishly, so that I make myself pay more attention to my lifestyle choices and keep the lifestyle creep at bay.

In my personal scenario there were few things in which the lifestyle creep manifested itself through:

  • I stopped buying drugstore skincare and switched to more expensive brands. They make no difference to my skin in all honesty, I just LIKE them more.
  • My food became mainly organic – there is nothing out there to really prove that organic food is worth the extra expense, I just LIKE the idea that it MIGHT be better for me
  • Instead of taking the bus in the middle of the night I started taking Uber. I could take the bus and save the £, but it’s just so much nicer when your ride is clean and nice-smelling at 2am.

None of the above seem inappropriate or in any way outrageous, but all 3 are examples of low-key lifestyle creep. Here is another, a much bigger example:

I moved into a much bigger property because I wanted more space. I didn’t need more space, but I did WANT more space. I now have a bedroom used exclusively for drying laundry. A family of refugees could live there if I were more generous – instead, my clean laundry lives there, and I pay the hefty mortgage instead of seeing the money I bring home pike up. And I don’t even remember how I settled on the decision to move exactly.

The problem with all four of the above is not that they happened, but that they happened pretty much without any level of realisation from my side that they are happening.

Yes, I still have a great budget and I stick to it, but for a while there I was wondering how on earth I make reasonable amount of money and yet very little of it stays in my pocket.

And how can a lifestyle creep be stopped? It’s simple but also hard, because being aware of what you are doing and how you decide on things requires a lot of discipline and brain power. The only way to stop it is to pay attention to your own decisions. This does involve constant evaluation of your surroundings and even seemingly insignificant choices you make. However, there is a flip side to it – if you are able to evaluate aspects of your life clearly, you will also be able to set a lifestyle standard you desire and stick to it. How does that look like in my case? Here are some examples.

I love red velvet cake. Instead of going out to a patisserie every other week to buy some, I learnt to bake. To afford the ingredients I stopped buying other sweets. The result? Instead of eating cheap sweets I get to have excellent cakes. My standard of life went up a notch, but my base cost has stayed where it was.

In another example, I enjoy reading and I subscribed to Kindle Unlimited about a year ago. However, recently I realised I take a month to get through a book, mainly because of a busy schedule. So I have now cancelled my Kindle unlimited because it was not adding enough value into my life – instead I just buy the book I want to read when I am ready to read it. In my case it does work out cheaper to do it that way.

Both changes above required some awareness of things happening, an evaluation, of value both things bring into my life and a decision. Am I stuck with either of the two decisions? No, but they both fit the standard of life I want to have without depleting my resources and that’s where I want to be.

This blog post has been featured on Optimal Finance Daily.

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